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Could anyone offer examples of "the kinds of emotional/hyperbolic language, or "talking yourself up" that come off as cloying?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Megan, here you go:


"You know the one—it’s the sentence that says, “with my background in xxx and yyy, I am the ideal candidate for your position in zzz.”

Sometimes it says, “my combination of experience in xxx and yyy make me an excellent fit for your position in zzz.”

Why do advisors keep telling their graduate students to include those? I mean, really? Does anybody actually take these things seriously? Is a search committee member really going to take the CANDIDATE’S word for their suitability for the position? If we’re going to do that, why search at all? Why not just take the one who says he’s “ideal”?"


"Innovative– If you have to say it, it ain’t so. Hardly anything in the academy is innovative, and if it is, then you should let your research speak for itself."

"Provocative-This often goes together with “innovative.” I know, I know, you’re a rebel. But, really, if you have or are getting a Ph.D., you’re as much of a rebel as Green Day are punk rock. And that’s ok- the one thing the academy is not looking for is rebels. They are looking for an intelligent colleague who will work with them."


"Empty claims like “I am passionate about teaching,” or “I care deeply about students,” or “I am an enthusiastic colleague” contain no evidence whatsoever. They can be made by anyone, and provide no means of proof. They are worthless verbiage.

Marcus Arvan

Addendum: As my earlier post on cover letter explains, I advise making cover letters as *matter-of-fact* as possible. Good letters do not "sell yourself." They simply show the person reading it your skills, qualifications, etc. This shows maturity and understanding that, at the end of the day, it is one's qualifications, accomplishment, and work that actually make you a good candidate, not your personal beliefs or ability to self yourself. A good letter should not be a "sales pitch." It should simply lay out your qualifications, experience, and accomplishments and let the reader judge for themselves whether you have the qualities they are looking for.



To ad to Marcus's good advice, you should not be telling the committee that you are/can do X, Y, and Z. You should be showing them you are/can do X, Y, and Z by telling about occasions on which you were/did X, Y, and Z. But you should not do this by giving examples and then prefacing them with assertions such as "I am X", followed by the example. Let the examples speak for themselves, without any hyperbole.


As a current job candidate, I appreciate all of the advice above. I think I understand what is meant by not "selling" oneself, and I have nearly always avoided language like "I am the perfect fit because X and Y..." This is easy to avoid, because I find this sort of language cheesy and uncomfortable myself. But although I had (mostly) been doing what Anon 4:58 suggests for research (I say my AOS at top, but then just describe my research projects/interests without saying why they fit into the AOS), I find it more difficult to see how to do it with teaching. I have been writing things like, "I am prepared to teach widely in X and Y, as demonstrated by [examples]." Should I really just be saying something like, "I have taught X and Y courses and have research background in both as well" without drawing out the further implication, e.g., that I am well prepared to teach X and Y? Maybe it's obvious, but it feels awkward to me, like I'm not explaining why I am communicating this information to them. Also, I wonder if this advice (or any of the other advice) should be different depending on whether you have a lot of teaching experience (particularly in a variety of courses) or whether your preparation is largely because of one's research area and coursework (for instance).

Marcus Arvan

Hi Lauren: Thanks for your kind comment and queries. I don't know how 'Anon' (above) would respond, but I did what you are talking about and did well in terms of getting interviews (viz. "I am prepared to teach your courses in X, Y, and Z, as demontrated by...).

In terms of whether your letter should differ depending on whether you have a lot of teaching experience, presumably yes. If you don't have much experience teaching, you will probably have to say you would be prepared to teach X, Y, and Z because of your research background. However, to this I should probably add that applicants without much teaching experience are probably at a serious disadvantage when it comes to jobs at teaching-focused institutions. Hiring committees at teaching institutions--for obvious reasons--have reasons to favor candidates with ample teaching experience and a demonstrated record of success teaching independently-taught courses in the areas listed in the job ad.


Marcus, thanks for your quick reply. There are obvious reasons for teaching-focused schools to prefer candidates who have successfully taught a variety of courses, but do you have any particular advice for those of us who have not? In my case, I have independently taught two courses (one of which is a standard introductory course in my AOS, the other a popular specialty course), so I have focused on highlighting those and that I actively sought teaching out (I have a graduate fellowship that requires no teaching), my pedagogical training (which is more extensive than for most students, although per the "not selling" advice, I explain what the training consisted in without characterizing it as such), and my student evaluations (I state my overall numbers in comparison to the average). By demonstrating my preparation for teaching generally combined with my research areas, I hope to show that I am prepared to teach courses I haven't taught yet (combined, of course, with a teaching portfolio demonstrating this preparation). But are there are other things I (and others in my shoes) should be doing? Or better ways of demonstrating this?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Lauren: Sorry for the delay in responding - it has been a busy week leading up to Thanksgiving!

It's not clear from your comment whether you mention your student evaluation averages in your cover letter or only in your portfolio - but I would not mention your evaluations in your cover letter. The search committee can immediately see those if you highlight your averages on the first page of your teaching portfolio. I worry that highlighting your averages in your cover letter may project the wrong tone (viz. desperate to prove oneself versus confident professional).

In terms of the cover letter, the best I think you can do is to demonstrate briefly but concretely (A) what is unique about you as a teacher (e.g. give an example of a class activity or pedagogical practice that will distinguish you from other candidates), and (B) demonstrate that you really *are* prepared to teach other classes (e.g. syllabi prepared for a variety of other courses you have not yet taught).

The critical thing in both cases is that you cannot just say that you are unique or prepared to teach many courses (e.g. because of your graduate training). You need to provide some demonstrable evidence showing that you *are* in fact prepared to teach a variety of courses. What kind of evidence? Offhand, I would say the best evidence is a variety of well-developed syllabi for courses you haven't taught yet. The reason why I say this is, in applying for jobs at teaching schools, you will most likely be competing against people with much more teaching experience who do have syllabi for courses the institution may need taught. Showing that you have taken the initiative to prepare syllabi for courses you haven't taught is, I think, the best thing you can do to show a committee that you are really serious about teaching and well-prepared--despite not much teaching experience--to step in on Day 1 and do the job well. So, I would say, if you have time and you haven't drawn up syllabi for many courses already, do it.

In sum: although actual teaching experience and a demonstrated history of consistently effective teaching are important to teaching institutions--and there is only so much one can do if one does not have much experience--I think the best you can do is highlight what is unique and compelling about your teaching style, show that you have prepared a number of different syllabi, highlight your student evaluations in your portfolio, and have a killer teaching statement.

Scott Clifton


You write "The search committee can immediately see those if you highlight your averages on the first page of your teaching portfolio."

How do you calculate and state those averages? All of my student evals are broken down as responses to individual questions. Would you just state the questions, followed by the averages? And would the averages just be the individual numbers added up and divided by the number of courses? Most of the results are adjusted means, so the average would be the mean of the adjusted medians? I'm not a number-bot, so I've often wondered if something gets lost or distorted in doing simple averages of adjusted medians.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Scott: Thanks for the questions, and sorry for the delay in response - I took a few days off for the Thanksgiving holiday!

In response to your first question, yes, I just state the questions followed by the averages across my courses. Since student evaluations have lots of questions and you don't want to overload search committees with information, I suggest summarizing averages for just a few of the items that search committees are likely to care most about (e.g. overall course rating, overall professor rating, quality of lectures, quality of class discussions, etc.).

To keep things simple, yes, I just calculate the averages for each course, add up the averages for each course, and then divide my the number of courses. At my university, we don't use adjusted medians, so I don't run into that problem--but I think as long as you clearly denote that you are averaging adjusted medians, that's probably good enough. Even though it might not satisfy a "number bot", it still seems to me to give SCs a helpful average of your adjusted medians--and as long as you note that that's what it is, I think that's good enough on your part.


Hello everyone,

I wasn't sure where to post this question but I would love an answer. Maybe this is even worth its own post; I'm not sure.

So given the new extended structure of the job market, many jobs are doing flyouts before another position has even done first round interviews. It is a very real possibility that an individual might be offered one job before they know if they will be offered another preferable job. I might be in a situation like this. It seems that in this job market the only logical choice is to take a position if offered.

So suppose one takes a position but then is offered a much preferable position? My adviser actually told me it is no big deal and just to go back on my contract. This seems horrible for a number of reasons. First, it just seems unethical. The school who offered you a job might be a small school who will be in a rough spot if you go back on your word. Second, you could make enemies.

On the other hand, choosing a job is a huge life decision. Job seekers are clearly in a desperate position. There also seems something wrong with refusing to take a better position which would clearly lead to a better life for you and your family.

Can someone please advise on this situation? I would like to know what someone should do and how they should handle it. If it is right to go back on your deal, how should one do that? If you have to turn down the preferable position, how should you do that?

Thank you!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Rocket: Thanks for posting your query. I think it deserves a post of its own, and plan to open up a thread for discussion on it tomorrow morning!


Thanks Marcus! PS re check my post name :)

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